Sexual harassment is serious business.
Unfortunately, it has probably been around as long as business culture itself has been around. But no one thinks it’s a laughing matter anymore (not that it ever was). In fact, failing to taking it seriously could mean a disaster for a business.
Awareness of the problem—and the legal and cultural steps to solve it—really increased in the last 25 years. In 1991, at a hotel convention, Marine and Navy officers become infamous for drunken assaults on dozens of fellow personnel. The “Tailhook Scandal” was a black eye the U.S. military because it was alleged that harassment was an accepted aspect of life in uniform. Many people claimed military higher-ups were simply looking the other way. The result was legal action against the hotel and embarrassing investigations into the military hierarchy.
The same year, Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment nearly torpedoed Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court. The Senate judiciary committee hearings were closely watched by Americans, and although Hill’s side of the story was never proved or disproved, the number of sexual harassment claims shot up 50 percent in the next year. As a nation, we were becoming aware of workplace sexual harassment as a serious issue.
The private sector has also had more than its share of high-profile cases (though not as high-profile as these). Employers know they must take harassment seriously or they could find themselves in court. The safety of their employees must be their top priority or they will be held accountable.
Here are a few of the reasons your business should do everything it can to stamp out sexual harassment:
It maintains legal standards and avoids litigation.
The cost of doing business is high enough without spending more on lawyers and consultants, which is what your company will have to do to fend off allegations of harassment. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1991, even a small business can be required to pay up to $50,000 in damages. For large companies with more than 500 employees, the damages could hit $300,000. An expensive settlement or punitive damages payment will make you wish you had invested in harassment and discrimination training before it was too late.
It ensures a good reputation for your company.
The legal and ethical problems that result from harassment should be a business’s biggest concerns. But you can’t ignore another kind of damage that can result from allegations—damage to your brand. If you’re a small business in a niche market, a reputation for harassment on the job could turn into your biggest PR nightmare.
It improves the productivity of all employees.
Everyone at work is impacted by harassment. Harassed women suffer from debilitating stress reactions that include anxiety, depression, headaches, sleep disorders and more. The demoralizing effects of harassment will drive employees to seek employment elsewhere. Even those not directly affected can have their work disrupted. On the other hand, addressing the issue head-on with workplace training has been demonstrated to increase employee loyalty and reduce turnover. A safe work environment is a productive work environment, and keeping workers happy is the best way to keep the company focused on its mission.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says all employers should “take all steps necessary to prevent sexual harassment from occurring, such as affirmatively raising the subject, expressing strong disapproval, developing appropriate sanctions, informing employees of their right to raise, and how to raise, the issue of harassment under Title VII, and developing methods to sensitize all concerned.” The answer is training. You have to adopt a proactive system such as 360training.com’s Harassment and Discrimination Prevention program. Doing it now could mean avoiding legal, ethical and reputation problems further down the line.